In its long and storied history, Belton wrestling had never produced a two-time state champion, but that all changed rather dramatically in a matter of minutes.
Juniors Andrew Gamble and Robert Weber became two-time Missouri Class 3 champions in back-to-back matches Feb. 17 during the final night of the Missouri state wrestling meet at Mizzou Arena.
Gamble went first, winning the 160-pound title immediately before Weber laid claim to the 170 crown.
Even better, both of those those matches came after senior Joe Biondo battled his way to the 152 title, giving the Pirates three championships in three straight matches.
“It was nice going back-to-back-to-back,” Belton wrestling coach Cody Newman said. “You watch really good programs, there’s usually two really good guys right next to each other and, if you’re lucky, you get a stretch of three, maybe four. They all make each other better, and that’s why we’re fortunate to be in the situation we are tonight with three state champions.”
Gamble, who won a title at 120 pounds as a freshman then missed state last season with a knee injury, needed a takedown in the closing seconds for a 3-1 overtime victory against Warrenton’s Jerrett Villinger.
After Gamble (52-2) needed three periods to beat Villinger during the Harrisonville Christmas Tournament in December, Newman expected the rematch would be a battle.
“It was nerve-racking for me,” said Newman, who expected Gamble’s match to be the toughest of the three. “The kid had wrestled us tough the first time and I know, when good wrestlers see an opponent more than once, they generally close the gap.”
Weber (44-5) didn’t give Newman a chance to be nervous in the next match. He needed only 1 minute and 45 seconds to pin Pacific’s James Anding and become Belton’s second two-time state champ.
“I already had a game plan of going out aggressive and playing my own style and not letting him have the time to do his own,” Weber said. “Whenever I got him in a bad position, I knew I could take that momentum to win the match.”
Weber, who won the 152 title last season and lost the 138 title in overtime two years ago, also became the Pirates’ second three-time state finalist, joining Josh Bozarth who did it from 1996-98, thanks to that aggressive style.
“Robert’s very focused and very direct when he wrestles in the bigger stages,” Newman said. “You very rarely see him wrestle defensive. He’s very good at going out and attacking and trying to get what he wants.”
Biondo, the lone senior out of Belton’s five qualifiers, kicked off the Pirates’ title streak with a 6-2 decision versus Pacific’s Ben Courtney in the 152 final. Biondo (52-3) battled back after giving up the first takedown, something he had done in each of his state matches.
“Sometimes it’s nerves, sometimes it’s Joe feeling guys out,” Newman said, “but I trust that he’s able to keep his composure and battle back.”
Belton’s other two qualifiers — Jack Goin (182) and Braden Bradley (113), a state champion at 106 pounds last season — fell in the second round of wrestlebacks. The Pirates finished fifth in the team standings with 85.5 points.
“We knew coming out of districts with five guys it was going to be tough,” Newman said. “But that’s four years in a row now we’ve been top five, and I’m happy with that.”
Two finalists for Harrisonville
Harrisonville had two of its three qualifiers bring home second-place medals.
Sam East (43-5) reached the Class 3 182 title match before losing a 5-3 decision to Windsor High’s Ryan Yarnell, who finished the season 53-0.
Nick Kruse placed second at 220 when he was pinned by Platte County’s Sage Smart in the final. Kruse (47-5) needed a 3-2 tiebreaker victory against Grain Valley’s Jaden Worthington to reach the final.
The Wildcats’ other state entry, Braden Danner, was eliminated in the third wrestleback round at 145 pounds on a 3-1 decision against Ladue Horton Watkins’ Jacob Orsay. Danner, a senior, ended his career with the most pins in the program’s history.
Roosters’ Sullivan earns all-state
Pleasant Hill also had an all-state wrestler in Chance Sullivan, who placed fifth in the Class 2 138-pound division.
Sullivan, a quarterfinalist at 126 last season, lost in the semifinals before coming back to beat Thomas Henderson of St. James 9-4 in the fifth-place match.
Chase Thompson made to the third round of wrestlebacks at 160 for Pleasant Hill, while Nolan Miller (170) fell in the second round of wrestlebacks as did Garrett Schick at 182 and Ryan Edenburn at 195.
LaBelle places for Ray-Pec
Garrett LaBelle of Raymore-Peculiar earned all-state honors with a sixth-place finish in the Class 4 132-pound division.
A sophomore, LaBelle lost in the quarterfinals before working his way back to the fifth-place match, where he lost on a 10-1 major decision against Waynesville’s Gavin Sax.
Ray-Pec’s Mason Pratt (160), Clint Herrick (182) and Joey Stalone (195) made it to the third round of wrestlebacks, while Shane Martin (220) fell in the second consolation round.